In an era when patient communication channels have moved online, how can providers ensure that digital health and behavior modification tools drive healthcare engagement in a way that promotes meaningful, long-lasting, and positive outcomes?
Now more than ever, health systems and providers recognize that healthcare is not one-size-fits-all. Patients face multifaceted challenges including COVID-19, disparities regarding access to care, financial strain, and a range of other complex issues while they navigate the healthcare landscape. Many of them also manage chronic conditions, which can be exacerbated—or entirely caused—by unhealthy behaviors over a prolonged period. So, even when patients overcome environmental barriers to receiving effective care, there is an added challenge of engaging them in the behavior change process to help them transcend the psychological barriers preventing them from achieving the long-term results they want—and need.
In an era when patient communication channels have moved online, how can providers ensure that digital health and behavior modification tools drive healthcare engagement in a way that promotes meaningful, long-lasting, and positive outcomes? It starts with strategic onboarding, persuasive technology that speaks to the individual, and implementing cognitive behavioral interventions so patients are motivated to take quick, focused action and see results that motivate future achievement.
Because patients are more likely to act on behavior modification when interventions align with their values and goals, it’s absolutely crucial to deploy an automated and effective onboarding patient experience from the start that quickly identifies any potential barriers to care to target later. As such, the recruiting and onboarding stage is critical to ensure lasting success.
It’s here at the initial touch point of enrollment that offers tremendous opportunity to guide patients towards self-identified care paths. By self-selecting interventions, patients practice advocating for their wants, needs, and goals rather than being “directed” to a care path that may not fit their vision. Again, this speaks to the overall philosophy of personalized and persuasive digital health communication – one that encourages patients to advocate for themselves and their care by choosing the behavior interventions that align with their unique health and wellness goals.
An enrollment and onboarding process indicative of successful outcomes need not include real-time interactions with a live coach. In fact, a fully automated process can boost enrollment rates because it eliminates friction points, such as scheduling a phone interaction with a health coach, that may delay progress. In this way, a digital-first enrollment and onboarding process can truly meet patients not only where they are, but when they’re available, maximizing the likelihood for lasting success.
Health industry innovators have designed digital platforms that leverage the efficiencies of technology while honoring each individual patient via personalized communication. Platforms that deploy technology that patients use already—such as SMS/text and email—offer more promising outcomes than those that introduce new technology to patients that they must then learn. What methods of communication patients may prefer? Herein lies yet another opportunity for personalization—ask the patient to self-select in the enrollment stage their preferred communication method and frequency.
Although the method of communication matters, it’s the way in which communication is personalized that is most interesting. Some of the most customizable digital-first health platforms have developed technology to deliver automated responses and prompts that invite two-way communication with the patient. These “adaptive conversation engines,” sit at the intersection of healthcare, innovation, and artificial intelligence to power highly personalized and interactive dialogue that is specific to each patient.The technology not only fosters interpersonal communication, but also has the ability to vary responses to reflect the dialect and language preference of the individual. In this way, patients feel listened to and understood.
Additionally, cognitive behavioral training is particularly effective at driving participation and outcomes. Cognitive behavioral training is a method born out of communication. A free flow of communication over the digital platform via text allows patients to become more aware of the false beliefs and negative thoughts that may influence their behaviors. This strategy lends itself to automated conversations, where the technology identifies the thought processes, inaccurate beliefs, and the situations that may challenge the patient to move towards more positive thoughts and behaviors that improve health.
While a one-size-fits-all methodology may be appropriate in certain cases, yielding small improvements in behavioral change, it’s unlikely to be long lasting. Why? Because to empower and engage diverse health populations, healthcare leaders must deliver care that is focused on the person, not just their condition, and drive engagement.
This shift in orientation from one that is condition-based to behavioral-based need not be complicated. The will exists. Healthcare systems are moving away from “directive” care to “person-centered” care. The technology exists. Automated conversations driven by tailored technology have the power to provide personalized insight, support, and feedback that addresses the individual patient’s needs and improves healthcare engagement. It’s these components that are key in the most promising behavioral change programs.
We live in uncertain times, but exciting times as well. With technology, healthcare stakeholders can empower patients, both in the office and remote, to learn effective behavioral strategies that work for them, so that they are empowered and see better health and long-term success.
Clark Lagemann is the co-CEO for Avidon Health.